Sword Art Online
by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
For many years, people played their favorite role-playing games (RPGs) on consoles and personal computers. Final Fantasy had, and still has, one of the biggest followings among gamers and there are numerous titles to date on various consoles. Others such as the Tales games, Star Ocean, Xenosaga and many more are implanted into the hearts of hardcore role-playing gamers alike. Then out came the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The RPG expanded and gamers could play live with others around the world, accomplishing quests and missions in various jobs across various platforms. So what is the next step? Sword Art Online, a new anime from Aniplex, looks at virtual MMORPG where the players, with virtual reality gear, are thrust into the world of the game as the character they created. What more could a gamer want than to actually live their gaming experience?
In 2022, a new MMORPG is released called Sword Art Online. The game uses nerve gear, a type of helmet that utilizes the five senses and thrusts the player into the virtual world of the game where they play out their characters while logged in. Kirito, a high school boy, was in the beta testing of the game, so he has a good feeling going into its official release. However, when players log on for the first time, they soon discover that they are unable to logout. If they are unable to logout, they won’t “wake up” in the real world and are trapped in the virtual reality of the game.
The players are informed by game creator Kayaba Akihiko that if they want to be able to log out from the game, they must make it up to the games 100th floor and defeat the final boss. The catch? Should their characters die in the game, they also die in real life. Now the players must form guilds and alliances, level up, master skills and crafts, and strategize as they battle their way to the 100th floor in hopes of making it back alive.
Anyone who has played a MMORPG at some point in their life will truly enjoy this anime. Most of the aspects which make MMORPGs what they are just happen to be displayed in some way, shape or form throughout the series. From working on weapon skills to being able to dual-wield two blades, having certain armor or weapons which give attack and defense bonuses, working on smithing and cooking to raise skills to be able to make better food, armor and weapons, it’s all here. They also go about forming parties to level, strategize about how certain bosses need to be attacked and what jobs are needed for the fights… and with the success of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI, you find yourself laughing throughout the episodes because these are things you’ve experienced in game (killing a toad enemy and getting toad leg drops for instance). It’s all here!
Now, what about the story? The series mainly follows Kirito, who was a beta-tester, and has a leg up on most of the other players. However, those that were in the beta testing aren’t generally looked upon favorably so he tends to stay by himself and solo. He meets many people along the way and is always helpful, gaining him a good reputation. He initially pairs with another lone player named Asuna who, later on, becomes a vice-commander for the strongest guild. It’s over a year into the game that these two begin doing more together and realize there is a love between them. But how does a relationship in a game work when real life is a logout away?
Thus, one of the biggest questions of the series arises. If you are stuck in a virtual world without much hope of escaping anytime soon, do you try to pursue that escape or do you make a life for yourself and be happy in this virtual world? Kirito and Asuna have this connection, this love that was found on a game, and they are well off at the same time; do they want to leave that where they are truly happy and able to be with each other? And the higher they go, in terms of floors completed in the game, more and more players are dying during the boss fights, dwindling their numbers. Will they ever really be able to beat the game or will they just die trying and never have happiness?
Sword Art Online is easily one of the best anime I’ve seen and definitely in my top five all-time favorites. From the connections formed between players, and the basic human emotions, needs and psychology we go through with those we meet and when others depend on us, it’s hard not to invest in the story and the characters from the beginning. It is even harder to just watch one episode and turn it off as you want to continue the story and see where everything leads. It isn’t often that an anime comes along that is so complete in all aspects of storytelling, but Sword Art Online manages just that. It provides a journey of action and adventure, love and relationships, life and death which is unrivaled in anime and most films. Sword Art Online is a story that will stand the passage of time and join the ranks of Evangelion, Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies and all those truly great anime.
Sword Art Online is available on Hulu.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars